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A burial vault underneath the choir

Our so called crypt is not a crypt in the real sense: we do not keep relics of saints in that place under the ground. It is approximately 10 m wide and 30 m long and was used as a burial place for important people in the 17th century. The crypt is accessible through a door in the choir.

In the beginning of the 18th century a wine merchant rented the crypt for storing wine barrels. At that time a second entrance was made in the garden near to the Sint-Paulusstraat.

1990: archaeological excavations

During the restoration campaigns after the fire of 1968, the floors in the nave and the choir were opened up for the installation of the underfloor heating and ventilation ducts.

This was the ideal moment for archaeological excavations to the 13th-century church and monastery. We had suspected for a long time that it would be right below the current Gothic church.

Pits were dug in the southwest corner and along the north wall of the crypt. As expected, well-preserved foundation remains of the choir of the first church were found: a northern abutment and the northern and southern walls of the eight-meter-wide choir in Tournai limestone. In some places the wall that rises up to three meters, was also well preserved, sometimes with the original plasterwork in place. Given the large height difference of 4 meters between the floor of the 13th-century church and that of the current church, the old church did not have to be completely demolished.

In May 1990 the ordination stone was found in the northern pit, on which it is stated that H. De Clerck, alderman of Antwerp, had the honor of placing the consecration stone here on March 31st, 1633, the date of the completion of the choir.

2006: Renovation of the crypt

Over the years, the crypt fell into disuse and was used only as a storage place for coal and chairs, among other things. A photo from 1980 shows the crypt in a dire condition.

In 2006, after the restoration work in the church, the non-profit association Sint-Paulusvrienden (friends of Saint Paul’s) found the financial means to restore the crypt: new lighting, toilets, a kitchen in the adjoining new building, painting and plaster work, ….

After all, Saint Paul’s community needed a place for lectures, meetings, receptions after orchestral masses, etc. And in that way the archaeological pits containing the remains of the old church could be seen by many visitors.

2021: opening up the archaeological site

Due to intensive use, the crypt was ready again for a thorough makeover. In addition to new lighting, a new kitchen and repainting, the focus this time was on optimizing accessibility and indoor climate. The ramp at the entrance for example was made wheelchair-friendly and the broken terracotta tiles around the tombstones were replaced. Opening up an old window opening and blowing in fresh air through a new passage at the end of the crypt creates a better indoor climate.

Perhaps the most radical change in the crypt is the new passage.

Via an iron gate, a work of art by Kristo&Kristo, you literally enter the 13th-century monastery. These parts of the old building were already uncovered during the archaeological excavations of 1990 under the celebration altar, the south transept and the sacristy. Through this gate you reach the passage from the church to the monastery. This portal in brick masonry, plastered and painted in wide bands of white and black (imitation natural stone) and red brick painting is unique. Such monumental architectural painting, probably dating back to the end of the 14th or the beginning of the 15th century, is very rare in Flanders and is to be found nowhere else in Antwerp.

A second portal is located a little further, just before the entrance to the 13th-century chapter house. Behind it is the small refectory that lies below the current sacristy.

You must be very excited by now and wishing to visit the crypt and the archeological route! Follow our news messages on our social media and be the first to know when we will open up this literally hidden part of Saint-Paul’s!


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